ISSUE 63 APRIL 2004 BACK

youth together

Exploring the language of dance

Nicola Visser

Nicola Visser, Artistic Director, Remix Dance Project, describes an encounter, facilitated by the Project that brought Grade 10 and 11 learners from Herschel Girls High School together with learners from Dominican School for Deaf children in Wittebome, Cape Town. To enhance the ability of youth to help peers and themselves, the author proposes specific training in mature social decision making to help youth overcome immature moral development and egocentric thinking.

I didn't want to write this. It is boring in words. I wish that you could see it like I did. There are 60 girls from Hershel high school in pink and blue tracksuits and wrapped in concern and a little anxiety. In the hall are a group of boys and girls singing in silence. Their hands are moving in a dance of birds on a current. They are singing in sign language: their hands are their voices.

At the beginning, each group stayed on opposite sides of the hall from each other. They looked at each other as only teenagers have the audacity and shyness to do. In between them were the teachers and, on the edges of everything, we stretched and chatted and looked on. It wasn't our turn yet.

First, the teachers from Dominican School for Deaf Children in Wittebome handed out sign language cards to the Herschel students. They then talked through the sign alphabet. We fiddled our fingers through the space, chipped away at the air to spell our names to someone we did not know. This was recorded on a name tag.

Then everyone looked around at us, still flexing legs and stretching spines on the sidelines. We were the dance company warming up to get everyone moving together, to break the physical barrier that still isolated the groups from each other. So we began our job. We warmed up the body bit by bit. In a big circle, without bumping, each person moved and warmed up their own body. This was followed by a little bit of playing leaning into each other, making contact with partners touching only shoulders to ears and ears to shoulders, or head to ankles, or base of spine to elbow. These initial contacts were expanded into balances, testing how to trust ones weight to a partner.

This partner work led quickly to duet work. We introduced signing dance a way of expanding sign language made by the hands into the whole body. Together each pair of students danced a sentence, exaggerating movements, balancing and leaning and carving the space with their bodies on a trajectory inscribed by sign language.

Beautiful duets emerged, some lyrical, others sharp and surprising. Some of the movements were a little blunt and raw as we hastened the learners to set their phrases. This raw material was the beginning of new encounters and possible friendships. Not so different really.

We ended with rhythm games of clapping and stamping on the floor, first led by Remix and then led by the learners themselves. They did not need us anymore. They were learning to play together. Sometimes we are just like children and hide behind skirts of prejudice, clinging to the false safety of the similar. What does it take to be brave? To speak with hands? Or to find the common language?

Remix Dance Project goes to the body to find the common language, a physical lingo that is non-violent but straight talking. This dance has its vocabulary in everyday movement. The movement you have made just now to turn the page, to sip your tea, stifle a yawn, rub your eyes. It is about levelling the playing fields. Bringing people together on the same ground.

Opportunities to explore
Remix Dance Project (of the Remix Dance Project Trust) is Cape Town's only resident integrated dance-theatre company. The Trust was established in 2001 to bring disabled and non-disabled dance practitioners together to create fresh and innovative dance-theatre and to educate practitioners, communities, learners and the general public about integrated dance and theatre.

Dance is the underlying art form in which people create work in Remix. Remix also welcomes onto its teaching and directing teams theatre practitioners with specialised skills in mime, clowning, directing, puppetry and poetry. These collaborations result in vivid productions that are fresh and outstanding, and break new ground in South African dance theatre.

Remix always offers an opportunity for audiences to explore and experience the work that they see on the stage. Workshops are run alongside all performances and open weekly company classes are held for all those interested in integrated dance. Remix offers workshops and residencies to schools, arts and culture institutions, communities and learning institutions.

Remix Dance Project has been recognised as being instrumental in bringing disabled and non-disabled dance artists together. It continues to pioneer innovative dance productions for the public to experience, and remains one of the longest standing integrated dance companies in South Africa. In 2002, Remix won the prestigious Arts & Culture Trust Award: Cultural Development Project of the Year, for its education and performance work.

Mission

Original

Visible

Accessible

The vision of Remix is to see the development and eventual support of a community of integrated dance practitioners in South Africa and, alongside this, the emergence of an integrated audience in accessible theatre complexes.

Stephanie Sturlese of Herschel Girls High School wrote the following poem after the programme:

A Change of Heart
Shallow, self centered thoughts have ceased.
Paradigms shifted and distorted view re-invented,
My world is now new.
Mine to re-explore, to renew, to re-invent.
Each movement, each opinion,
Every action, every reaction,
Changed, shifted, distorted, renewed.
Mine to re-explore, to renew, to re-invent.
I loved the imperfect,
Listening to silence, sometimes deafening
Touched a lonely heart that felt too far away
Found a new friendship to explore, to invent.
I built home.
Breaking down walls, building others up
A hand-up not a hand-out
An experience to explore, to invent, to renew.
These experiences priceless;
I feel grateful in my unique actions
And thankful for such overwhelming gifts from
God
Mine to re-explore, to renew, to re-invent.

Beyond the comfort zone
Comments from learners and teachers reflect the value of the encounter:

I was really ignorant about deaf people. I learnt a lot about deaf people and got a bit of insight of how they felt to be deaf.
Aabida Davis

This week has changed my heart, because I have learnt how precious my hearing and friends are...I have changed my perception of deaf people, because before I saw them and interacted with them I was really scared to meet them.
Marlise de Villiers

Imagine living in a world where sounds don't exist. I learnt to stretch myself and go beyond my comfort zone to meet new people.
Jade Misplon

It was inspiring to see people from two very different realities opening up to each other and encountering each other through the common language of dance and movement. It was an amazing experience.
Louise Gibbon, teacher

http://www.remixdanceproject.co.za/

This feature: ChildrenFIRST : Issue 53 (January/February 2004)

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